From the Depths: The Discovery of Poverty in the United States

By Robert H. Bremner | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 12
The Home and the Child

It takes a lot of telling to make a city know when it is doing wrong. However, that was what I was there for. When it didn't seem to help, I would go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it would split in two, and I knew it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before....

JACOB A. RIIS, The Making of an American.


Tenement-House Reform

T HE movement for tenement-house reform was the first major venture in social amelioration in the United States in the twentieth century and the one that, in the long run, was destined to be the most instructive. By the turn of the century the influence of the settlements and the frequent exploitation of slum scenes and personalities in literature had begun to affect popular attitudes toward tenement dwellers. The older loathing for the people of the slums began to give way to sympathy and even respect. They were less often lumped with the vicious and criminal classes and more frequently considered particularly unfortunate members of the working class. It became something of a commonplace to remark that they were obliged to pay high rents for accommodations that compared unfavorably with the stables of beasts. "You are liable to arrest if you allow your stable to become filthy and a nuisance," commented a writer in Scribner's Magazine. "The landlord may do pretty much what he pleases with his tenements."1

If opinion regarding the residents of the tenements was mellow

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